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NEWS & ANALYSIS

Over 130 Federal Judges Violated Law by Overseeing Cases Involving Personal Financial Interest


More than 130 federal judges have violated U.S. law and ethics by overseeing court cases involving companies in which they or their family owned stock. 

According to a Wall Street Journal investigation, judges have improperly failed to disqualify themselves from 685 court cases around the nation since 2010. 

About two-thirds of federal district judges disclosed holdings of individual stocks, and nearly one of every five who did heard at least one case involving those stocks. 

56 of the judges have directed court clerks to notify parties in 329 lawsuits that they should have recused themselves, meaning new judges may be assigned and the rulings may be upended. 

The violations found by the Journal investigation breach a principle of American jurisprudence: No one should be a judge of his or her own cause. This principle has existed since 1792 to guarantee litigants an impartial judge. 

Indeed, since 1974, federal law has prohibited judges from hearing cases that involve a party in which they, their spouses, or their minor children have a “legal or equitable interest, however small.” 

After reviewing financial disclosure forms from around 700 judges, the Journal found that 129 federal district judges and two federal appellate judges had at least one case in which a stock they or their family owned was a plaintiff or defendant.